Category Archives: Writing

Obituary: Apostrophe

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Obituary

Today marked the passing of the dubious Apostrophe, whose real named is spelled ‘. The word “Apostrophe” is Greek, meaning “…the act of turning away…” It was born sometime in the 1500s. Shakespeare was a close friend of Apostrophe, employing him haphazardly and without regard to decorum. Through the centuries, writers and the general public have argued relentlessly over the usage of Apostrophe. Some have foolishly attempted to speak on behalf of Apostrophe; all are posers and speaking on his behalf without authority. No one truly understood Apostrophe or his real purpose.

The Apostrophe suffered a slow and agonizing death, one literally punctuated by debates about its viability. Apostrophonies (ardent admirers of Apostrophe) wept in silence, unsure if theyll be able to communicate without their beloved obsolete claw mark. Plans are being made to address whether we will or wont be able to understand written English after its passing. Its unclear what the cause of death was for the misunderstood punctuation mark, although an autopsy points to a complete lack of a reason to continue living as the most likely culprit.

We will still be able to determine possessive forms in writing, even in Apostrohpes absence. We have also surrendered any intention of honoring the ridiculous use of an apostrophe for so-called awkward plurals and the bane of all sane people, the plural possessive.

If youre not sure what was intended when reading, simply read it aloud to immediately clear up any confusion on the matter. The spoken word and Apostrophe have never needed one another.

In observance of the death of the Apostrophe, its remains will be cremated and its ashes scattered in the mouths of angry grammarians everywhere.

A eulogy will be provided by Apostrophes terminally ill cousins, Colon and Semicolon. It isnt clear whether Colon will be able to speak without several lengthy pauses.

The funeral is at 11 oclock on Wednesday.

This Language Is Yours To Use As You Wish

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I’ve had people ask me what makes you think you’re a grammarian?
My simple answer: “…the same thing that makes all other self-proclaimed grammarians.” Who makes dictionaries? What makes a ‘word?’ While I’m no expert on English, I’m a lover of words in multiple languages – and certainly, someone who spends an extraordinary amount of time with words dancing in delight inside my head. They are not my enemy, even when I bend them in uncertain ways.

My only enemy in language is the obtuse and illogical insistence that our language has ever reached a finished state. English is a mutt of a language and we are its barking dogs. We all share in its ownership and therefore bear some ability to shape it.

It all obfuscates the simple truth that our language does not have a governing body. Everything you know about the certainty and spectacle of language is based on the falsehood of having an overriding authority that dictates correctness. No such thing exists. Even if it did we would most likely ignore it. Usage determines correctness no matter how much you cluck about it or violently disagree. It is always been that way and it always will. The language we use today will not be the same as that used in 100 years. Correctness will adjust to the wear-and-tear of our assault on it.

I’ve had many people ask me about my status as an authority on language. My authority is the same as anyone else, except that I had an epiphany. I listened as 4 English experts disagreed on a basic idea regarding a simple expression, one which other languages do entirely differently. At the end of the table, another lover of language leaned in and asked those arguing, “But was the meaning perfectly clear in its expression?” The experts were flummoxed. “It seems to me that you’re confusing objective with process.”

The entire framework is an illusion. That many people read my derision of the self-proclaimed authorities on language and nod their heads in agreement with me doesn’t merely demonstrate that a lot of people hate the stupidity and structure of our language. It’s also because they recognize the truth of my message. And the same way that people realized they don’t need an intercessory to engage with their creator, we also aren’t in need of an external authority for language correctness. It’s our fault that we’ve allowed our written language to be so ridiculously arcane and complex. We can have deep universal and human conversations, even technical ones, without any need for spelling or punctuation – the customary nonsense that is demanded of us when we put pen-to-paper. The snobbery of grammar nerds is appalling precisely because they don’t recognize their own ignorance even as they protest and trumpet that they alone know the correct usage.

Language, spelling, syntax. All these things are evolving and moving targets, much like the wrinkled brow of the self-avowed expert on language.

Language is a living animal. Anything so fundamental to human expression doesn’t need years of study or advanced comprehension of ridiculously complex rules riddled with imaginary exceptions. It needs sanity. Almost all of our language is used informally and verbally.

While it’s amusing to some to feel versed on the English language, the greater truth is that our set of rules for its usage bear no resemblance to the purpose of language: communication and expression. We are all equally and preposterously ignorant for allowing language to be a burden on its users. Many see “Your welcome” and see it as a sign of ignorance. I do as well, except the ignorance is in the eye of the accuser. Those who use “your” instead of the contraction “you’re” are going to win the battle. You just don’t know it.

Likewise, I empower anyone reading this to stop heeding the grammarians as he or she attempts to correct you. It’s perfectly fine to define usage as ‘purist,’ because no one follows all the rules and most of us routinely butcher most of them without consequence.

My agony is in recognition of the hypocrisy on the part of my fellow humans. We’re all wrong – and always have been.

We own the language. All of us, even if it curls your eyebrows to understand.

The Joy of Lexicography – TED

 

What Makes a Word ‘Real’ – TED

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee (A book)

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We all vividly recall colorful memories of carnivals, ocean beaches, or sunlit birthday parties. Many of us have an unseen bond with a few select books, ones so rich and engrossing that we often mourn a little with their completion. The memory of a great book fills our minds with joy as easily as childhood happiness.

Often, a first-time author will pour his or her soul and wit into a book. Without recognition, these books can fade, despite their hidden potential to ignite people’s minds. Those which pluck at our heartstrings and nostalgic memories deserve a chance to flourish and reach more people.

If you’ve yet to hear of “The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee” by Talya Tate Boerner, I envy you. Your first time reading this treasure is ahead of you. The prose flows like melting ice cream on the back of your hand and the people and places in the book walk through your mind with a vividness that’s difficult to master as a writer. Talya’s mastery of language is equal to Pat Conroy, though her words are more sparse and evocative.

I heard of the book through social media. An avid reader I know spoke highly of it. Since I hadn’t heard of it, at least not that I remembered, I had a tinge of doubt. Buying it on Amazon was one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding a book. Since then, I’ve given the book to several people, all of whom have nothing except warm praise for it. Each book has passed from the original owner to someone else, a secondhand gift of true love for those who might receive it.

For those who might have grown up in eastern Arkansas or in some other rural community, you’ll find yourself back in those tilled fields, with your hands touching the rough edges of a cotton plant or your bare feet carefully treading on the boards of a long front porch. If you’re really lucky, you’ll hear the muffled bang of a screen door slamming shut in the summer as someone you love hollers at you for doing it – for the thousandth time.

“The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee” is a love story for a young girl’s childhood. It will make you stand up and look out on your current world and feel like we might have taken a curved path as we grew up and turned away from simple connections. The book stunningly hides a story line of acceptance and redemption inside, one between a stubborn dad and daughter; many of us will find ourselves comparing ourselves to one or the other.

My only wish is that Talya Tate Boerner would write a dozen more such books. In a world filled with books equal to her first, most of us could find happiness in their pages. It is a book like hers which whispers to me long after I’ve finished reading it.

For anyone with a love for reading or storytelling, please find a copy of this book. I’m sure that you will not regret the time you spend inside its world.

Love, X

Endergong and Exergong (New Words)

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I’m creating two new words for the English language today.

Are they necessary? No, but neither is “philtrum,” which is the line or cleft between your nose and upper lip. (To the tubercle of the upper lip, to be ridiculously obtuse and exact.)

Luckily for me, the litmus test for word inclusion in our shared collective English language is that there isn’t one. Yes, usage determines inclusion, but a word is a word the second that any meaning is attached to it, even if it doesn’t thrive.¬† Even “callipygian,” which is an artful way of describing buttocks that won’t get you punched in the epiglottis.

As Douglas Adams once paraphrased, it’s this kind of fact that generally pisses people off.

An endergonic reaction is one in which energy is absorbed and an exergonic reaction is one which results in energy released.

My two new words are these: ‘endergong’ and ‘exergong.’ Words which terminate in “gong” are gorgeous words. Perhaps if the movie had been titled “Gong With The Wind,” it might have fared even better with the general public. We’ll never know. And no, we frankly don’t give a damn.

An ‘endergong’ is someone who requires or takes in more energy than he or she adds to the social fabric.

An ‘exergong’ is someone who adds more to the social fabric than he or she consumes.

The implication is that exergong is a more positive word, characterizing positivity, freedom, and openness. You feel happier with exergongs surrounding you.

An endergong is someone who sulks at the table, complaining about everyone and everything, even the free beer you just handed him or her.

You’re welcome.

P.S. If you don’t like the words, please send a postcard to the American Society For Language, which is a non-existent organization that won’t read whatever it is you have to say about it.

Chillax, It’s Totes English For All Of Us

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It’s not about whether you accept a word as standard usage or not; it’s that our shared language ignores your opinion. That semicolon that I just used? Obsolete. Or out-dated, if you prefer more unwieldy adjectives. (Much like the letter ‘c’ in ‘adjective.’)

Words need no invitation. They are born from our careless lips and either languish or flourish. It’s just as futile as arguing whether a tulip is more beautiful than a dandelion. (The correct answer is undoubtedly ‘dandelion,’ though, for the record.) English is coldly practical about your derision of its children. It also allows many of its creations to wither without a second glance. Language is neither math nor codified science and there is no universal standard which determines which children live under its roof. Not to hound the point, but even the word ‘dog’ wasn’t originally our word. It took a long time for it to replace ‘hound.’ Yet, we now have both words, with ‘dog’ being top-dog. (And 10 other ones, for good measure, ones into which you can stick your canines.) Irregular verb conjugations dissolve over time, much like our ability to have an expansive view of subjective subjects. Being difficult largely results in a short trip to the dustbin. Oddly enough, though, English has a wordlist longer than any other language. We steal words like pieces of candy from grandma’s purse.

In the 70+ years you’ll use our language, massive change will creep into it. You can resist or embrace it. It’s why we no longer speak Latin and that even basic spelling fills a chasm between us and our mother tongue in England. You’re standing in a river as it flows.

A better use of your time, though, would be to learn at least one other language. It will help to rupture the nonsensical insistence that ‘standard’ or ‘proper’ is anything except a label. It’s hard for me to understand how someone who hasn’t mastered more than language can ignore the certainty of expression another language provides. Competing languages express the same thoughts, hopes, and ideas of one’s mother tongue, yet do so under an alien alphabet and syntax. This is the only proof you need that wasting one’s life over semantics in a language is folly. Early English was considered too crude to express abstract concepts. Some speculate that this is still the case. Some of our current users make us wince in pain and beg to have pencils shoved into our ear canals.

It’s fascinating that language is designed first and foremost for communication yet so many fights pour from the incessant evolution of its form and content. The only winnable war where words reside is to yield and abstain from the fight. Just as most people can’t adequately explain the engines in their personal vehicles, most can’t diagram a sentence or correctly detail the preferred syntax of the language they use for their entire lives.

Whether you want to be in the same boat with those who share your language, you’re there nonetheless, all of us with rows in the water, all of us both perpetrator and victim to the infinite nuances and bastardizations of words and expression. You can row backward if you want but it is counterproductive.

Observing harsh criticisms of language’s evolution, I am confounded. The history of our language is one of appropriation, misuse, creation, and abuse. Why then do so many seemingly ignore the tower of linguistic history behind us?

If you loathe words such as bae, bling, hangry, deglobalization, listicle, ginger, humblebrag, infomania, bromance, totes, chillax, binge-watch, meme, staycation, or any of the other hundreds of words taking up residence in our collective lexicon, I can only say that you’re going to have an unpleasant road ahead of you. It’s what we’ve always done. We welcome all comers to our dictionary. Some stand at the doorstep longer than others but usage knocks loudly and those with an upturned nose lose their votes as time and repetition makes way for all manner of poorly-constructed houseguests.

Language belongs to all who use it. You’ll pass on soon enough, leaving your usage in a hazy trail of rules which will not hold up over time. Language is for the living. The greater your resistance, the more likely that your own evolution of expression is now frozen in a fixed place, one which you’ve placed in a tidy box marked ‘Finished.’ Because it is – and you are.

Above It All And Within

 

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Barbara closed her book with resolve, knowing that Pat Conroy’s love of the land which defined him would welcome her once again as soon as she opened the pages. She leaned over to kiss her husband David, even as he paused to remove himself from the world of John Irving. “I’ll be back in a minute, my Lowenstein,” she whispered. He nodded and peered at her over the rim of his ridiculous reading glasses.

She cast aside the bedspread and climbed from the bed. Though the room was a historical catalog of the shared lives of her, her husband, and daughter Elizabeth, Barbara no longer needed to cast a glance at the myriad collection of photos to remember each individual memory. Most of her days filled with recollections of the life they shared before Elizabeth departed. Nineteen eighty-five might as well have been another life. In many ways, it was.

She walked barefoot from the room and turned left, heading toward the darkened room which comprised the epicenter of her life and once belonged to her daughter. She counted the eight paces to the window and pulled it open. The warm breeze enveloped her as she exited to the roof. Tonight, she could smell the honeysuckle floating on the air. A night like tonight was the last one Elizabeth had enjoyed, slightly more than one-third of a century ago.

Barbara knew that on so many previous nights, her daughter Elizabeth had emerged from the same window to smoke. Unlike her daughter, though, Barbara limited herself to a solitary cigarette. She hadn’t smoked a puff in her life until her daughter had died. Since that night, she hadn’t missed a single night without smoking. Rituals demand adherents.

In the event of rain, Barbara would smoke under the overhang of the utility shed, just like Elizabeth. As the drops fell, they reminded her of the minutes her daughter failed to enjoy. Thousands of droplets, accumulating at her feet. At times, she imagined that she could feel each one as it fell.

David knew better than to question his wife. Contemplation requires tranquility, if not silence. Although he would never admit it, he loved his wife more for her dedication to the ritual of remembrance than almost any other thing. He couldn’t bring himself to join her on the roof, even as his absence sometimes drove a wedge between them. 33 years had failed to convince him otherwise.

Barbara measured her inhalations as she watched her quiet neighbors. If anyone now saw the glowing tip of her lit cigarette high on the roof, he or she no longer questioned it. Barbara’s loss was intensely private. When she finished the cigarette, she flicked it out into the yard. David didn’t mind. Collecting the butts was part of his ritual, one he did without comment. In his heart, he knew that one day he would give anything to have the chance to pick up after the people who were no longer with him.

Barbara paused on the other side of the roof, one leg draped over the windowsill. Elizabeth was somewhere out there, in a place of unknowing. Barbara sighed and headed back to her Lowenstein, even as her heart called into the blanket of night.
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Writer’s Block – An Imaginary Foe Leads to Wealth

Once the ad agency of Hodges And Hedge discovered that I never experience writer’s block, even when a heck of a lot of people would rather I did, they gave me a plum freelance assignment. Their usual staff writers were unable to get past the tame subject matter.

Even though I knew nothing about inclement weather safety and tornadoes other than the tried-and-true system of “Avoid It At All Costs,” I got to work.

Last Wednesday, I researched and wrote several pages of draft material. It was filled with data and advice, punctuated by wit. Without a second thought, I submitted it.

Thursday morning, I opened my email to find that the content editor was very unhappy with my work. “It’s not your normal style, X. We appreciate the draft, but we need something we can use, something which captures the essence of tornadic response but stated in a fanciful¬† way.”

Twenty minutes later, I submitted my abridged version.

The State of Vermont’s Department of Tourism bought the piece from Hodges and Hedge for $7,500.

Here it is:

 

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I’m told that it is going to be used all over the midwest.

Is this story true or not? Ask Sarah Sanders.

 

 

A Home Remedy For the Grammer Police

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NSFW. Contains language about language.

*Yes, I know how to spell ‘grammar,’ but that’s the point.

 

The world is a small place sometimes. It’s hard to gauge where my ideas might reach. In places where people don’t know me, my ideas seem plausible. In others, people point to what I’ve written as a short-hand to get their point across. They write, “This,” with a link, or “This reminds me of you.” To be fair, many people also tell me I’m a moron, but with a lesser frequency that I would have otherwise expected to be the case.

When I write about people having the freedom to take back their own languages and use and abuse them as they see fit, most of the response is overwhelmingly positive. There is indeed a time and place for exacting language – and that time and place is normally one which doesn’t require our presence, much less enthusiasm, for it. The responsibility for language’s needless complexity does not fall upon the average user.

On one of my alter-ego projects, someone wrote me. She was irritated at a few of her well-meaning and passive-aggressive friends and family, some of whom apparently rejoice in being grammar police. She told me that several of her friends and family were afraid to post anything and sometimes say anything, anticipating the overzealous criticism. She had tried ignoring them, politely asking them to stop and finally, in a last-ditch effort, she started lashing out at them. She saw some of my craziness on someone’s blog and decided to offer me a chance to weigh in.

My appeals to tell those who think English is a fixed target should go jump in a frozen lake struck a chord with her. She said she had never thought of Standard English as a formal and shared means to learn a dialect that no one learned at home – or that spoken language drives the language no matter how many cries of anguish we hear from those invested in “correct English.”

“I need a way to get my point across, even with a sledgehammer, if necessary. What do you recommend?” she wrote.

“Well, if you’re all adults, I recommend avoiding behavior which invites more contempt. They’re not going to change, that much is obvious. It’s not a ‘you’ issue, not really. They need to gain esteem by policing other people. You can’t fix them, so you need to focus their attention away from you.” So far, so good, as I wrote back.

“First, it’s important that you politely tell each person who has been a pain in your rear to please stop and that further trolling is unwelcome. Then, each time one of your friends, family, or acquaintances pulls their grammar nonsense, send them this,” I wrote:

<To the grammar police: You put the ‘dick’ in ‘dicktionary.’ Regards, Don’t Care >

 

I told her to write it every time someone pulled out their bag of tactics on her – after they ignored one more final polite request to please stop. If they responded with anger, write the same thing, over and over. If they tried to police her in person, I told her to say it out loud, even in awkward social situations. I pointed out that her social faux pas was no greater than theirs, that of policing other adults in trivial matters.

“If that doesn’t work, let me know.” I wished her well and told her to follow through every time her hackles went up. I reminded her that it was senseless for her to get upset and to instead transfer that irritation back those being jerks. I warned that it would take time. She told me that a few of her friends and family had been torturing her for years and that a few weeks of concerted effort would be better than living the rest of her life under the thumb of a bunch of control freaks.

Several days later, she wrote me and told me that at first it really bothered her to be discourteous. After a few times, though, she got invested in the reaction. She had one last hold-out, though, a family member who tended to lash out about any topic, whether it be politics, religion, grammar, or how to fold towels in the guest bathroom.

I asked her to send me the name of the family member so that I could get a picture from their social media. After she did so, I told her to check her email and follow the instructions and to only follow them if the person torturing her didn’t heed one last polite request to please stop bothering her.

Over a week later, she wrote back, to tell me that it had worked beyond belief.

Her family member had become irate and sent an email and social media messenger blast to all their mutual friends and family, accusing her of lashing out without reason. Her family member didn’t stop to realize that it provided the victim with a list of everyone affected. She wrote back to all of them, asking them to let her know if they were interested in knowing the real story. Most did and after reading her explanation were completely on board. Almost all agreed that it would be better for everyone to ignore what they perceived as errors – and to certainly not condone those who continued to be jerks after politely being asked to step away or to bother someone else who had no objection.

The picture attached to this post is what she emailed, after begging and politely requesting relief at least a dozen times…

 

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P.S. It’s important that anyone reading this understand that at each stage I insist that the first course of action is to respond with politeness and courtesy, even if the person making your life a living hades is beyond redemption.

P.P.S. I didn’t invent the word ‘dicktionary.’

 

 

The Brown / Hat Conundrum

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The Brown / Hat Conundrum

As you comment to tell me that what I’ve said is stupid,
remember that you decided to waste a precious sliver of
your finite life to denigrate me or my opinion.
People angrily comment when they either recognize the
truth in a contrary opinion or they are insecure about
their own tenuous hold on the world. Lashing out at
another for expression is a self-accusation and an
acknowledgment that your beliefs don’t sustain scrutiny.